BY KRISTIN DETTERLINE-MUNRO
PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT ASCROFT | September 1, 2010 | People
Floral silk chiffon belted dress ($3,650) and black silk bodysuit ($1,295), Dolce & Gabbana. Saks Fifth Avenue, 2 Bala Plaza, 610-667-1550. Lucite balls tiered dust necklace ($245) and crystal-encrusted gunmetal organic ring ($245), Alexis Bittar. Visit alexisbittar.com.
Kerry Washington is in a hurry, or at least it sounds like she is. Her publicist has just patched me through to her cell phone, and with a few quick greetings out of the way I’m ready to tick off a list of all the droolworthy dresses she’s been photographed in for Philadelphia Style’s Fall Fashion cover. But before I can squeak out the word “Marchesa,” she politely interrupts to ask about our interview schedule.
Washington is on her way to the airport, the cacophony of New York City traffic crackling across the line, and assures me that we’ll have plenty of time to chat while the car she’s in wends its way through congested streets. Just an hour before, Washington was a study in relaxation for our cover shoot, offering demure smiles and languid poses for the camera while swathed in fall’s finest frocks. Such is the life for one of Hollywood’s hottest, hardest-working actresses.
Washington was born and raised in the Bronx borough of New York City and attended the exclusive Spence School in Manhattan during junior high and high school (fellow A-list alums include Gwyneth Paltrow and Emmy Rossum) before going on to earn an interdisciplinary degree in anthropology/sociology from George Washington University. Her first substantial movie role came in 2001’s teen-themed Save the Last Dance and was followed by primetime parts on NYPD Blue and Law & Order. A few years would pass before her breakout turn as Della Bea Robinson in Ray, which earned her costar and on-screen husband, Jamie Foxx, an Oscar for his vivid portrayal of Ray Charles. A handful of other well-chosen roles followed, and Washington has shared the silver screen with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars: a pre- Brangelina Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in Mr. and Mrs. Smith; Jessica Alba and Michael Chiklis in the blockbuster Fantastic Four franchise; Forrest Whitaker, who scored an Oscar for his role as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland; and Chris Rock in the tender comedy I Think I Love My Wife.
Washington’s latest project, Night Catches Us, finds the 33-year-old actress playing Patricia Wilson, a mother torn between the past and the present in her 1970s Philadelphia neighborhood, which was once a hotbed of activity for the Black Panther movement. The movie, written and directed by Philly resident Tanya Hamilton and shot in the Germantown section of town last year, was a selection at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and may be Washington’s best performance yet. Here, she tells us about working on the film, getting glam and giving back.
|Bronze metallic silk halter gown, Salvatore Ferragamo ($4,890). Saks Fifth Avenue, 2 Bala Plaza, 610-667- 1550. Pearl whisk earrings, Subversive Jewelry ($130). Visit subversivejewelry.com. Festa watch in 18k whitegold case with diamonds and bronze python strap, Movado ($20,000). Govberg Jewelers, 800-528-8463. Trinity bracelet in 18k white gold, yellow gold and rose gold, Cartier (price on request). Visit cartier.com.|
I just saw some of the selects from your shoot. The clothes are amazing!
Already? Wow, that was fast. It’s sort of surreal that [a photo shoot] is called work. But it does require a certain level of concentration, and there can be some anxiety around it.
You beat me to my first question: Is it ever not fun to wear designer clothing and have your picture taken?
It was more fun when I was six years old and dressing up in my parents’ living room. There was no pressure. Now you do it to present a film, your work or a magazine. It’s still really wonderful. There’s such a collaborative element. You’re working with artists in makeup and fashion and photography to create these different tableaus.
Dressing up at six years old? So fashion must have always been a big part of your life?
No way. I was just dressing up in my mother’s various scarves then. That was much more about creating characters. Fashion was something that I fell into as part of my work as an actor. The red carpet thing is part of the job, like it’s the actor’s responsibility as part of post-production. And I took on that education as part of my professional responsibility. I had no idea I would love it so much.
Well, you’ve done your homework—you’re a fixture at Fashion Week and consistently rank on the bestdressed lists. How do you have so few misses when it comes to fashion? Do you have a team of stylists or trust your instincts about what you like?
It’s all of the above. I think I’m really lucky. I’ve been able to learn about fashion from people in the industry, and they have all been really supportive. My friend Tracee Ellis Ross took me under her wing. She was born with a Vogue magazine in her hand and an inherent awareness about fashion. She never uses a stylist and looks beyond fl awless. I work with a few different stylists for my look. I’m not a very fashionable dresser in everyday life. I view being on the red carpet and photo shoots as playing a character.
Any designers that you really love these days?
I love Jason Wu, always. And Francisco Costa at Calvin Klein. I think he is so, so talented—and adorable. And Stella McCartney. For everyday clothing I like Tory Burch and Proenza Schouler, whose accessories are amazing. The Thakoon for Gap gown that I helped to design for this year’s Met Ball is my favorite thing that I’ve ever worn. It was such a fun collaboration, from the sketches to the fi ttings. I rarely have the opportunity to collaborate with a stylist. There are so many elements… what blouse you wear, what jewels match, what the hair and makeup are going to be. It really does take a village. [Laughs]
Congratulations are in order for the fantastic buzz surrounding Night Catches Us, which was filmed here in Philly. What initially drew you to the role?
I read the script, but I read about the project many years ago. [I thought] it was a wonderful idea. Often people tend to look at the Black Panthers— or anyone in those movements—as caricatures. They think of Afros and guns and fists in the air. But we don’t think about the human beings involved. I think that’s what drew me to the project, humanizing a subculture that can often be stereotyped. And I liked that it was shooting in Philadelphia. My dad was a big track athlete, so we went to the Penn Relays every year when I was a kid. My dad still goes. We’d stay for the weekend and go to places like the Franklin Institute, the Art Museum and the Liberty Bell. I have a fondness for Philly. It lives in my family’s traditions.
Did you have a chance to enjoy the city this time?
Not much, because I was mostly working. I did eat at Fork. That place is totally up my alley: local, seasonal, organic. I frequented The Fresh Grocer in West Philly, too. I liked Mount Airy’s Weavers Way Co-op on Greene Street and the yoga studio, where we rehearsed. It felt sort of “granola” there.
What messages in Night Catches Us are relevant and relatable to today’s filmgoers?
That’s a tricky question and one that’s more for the director to answer. My hope for a film is always the same —that [the audience] believes in the people, places and situations in the film, and they forget their lives for a moment and come along with us for a ride. The movie does allow you to get a glimpse into a world that you would not have access to in any other way. The characters in the fi lm that misunderstand the Panthers allow you to take in the movement in a three-dimensional way. When we received feedback from people associated with the Black Panthers at the time, they said their experiences were refl ected honestly on-screen.
You’re very involved in charity initiatives, especially for the arts. Why is this cause so important to you?
I’m on the Artists Committee for Americans for the Arts, an advocacy organization, and I was appointed to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities by Michelle and Barack Obama. To be honest, the arts have always been my life support. When I was a kid I was in afterschool programs for piano and children’s theater instead of hanging out on the streets in the Bronx. I owe a great deal to the arts and art programs.
A lot of your film roles require you to be incredibly serious. What are some ways you relax when you’ve got downtime?
Downtime—what’s that? [Laughs] I hang out with my dog. I brought her while I was filming. She loved Philadelphia.
Ours is a very dog-friendly town.
I know! It really is. So I take her on long walks. I spend time with friends and family. I moved back to the East Coast when I was shooting Night Catches Us. The more time on the East Coast, the better it is for me. It’s so wonderful and important to be around people who you’ve known for a long time. We had a birthday party for my dad, and his friend said that when you’ve known someone for 40 years and you’re still the new kid on the block—because my dad has so many old friends—you know that’s a special person. My parents are really beautiful examples of nurturing family and friends.
It seems that you can do just about anything— movies, TV, theater—so what’s next?
I’ve got a couple of things coming up. I’m doing a movie called For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, which is based on a play from the ’70s. Tyler Perry is directing. I’ve never worked with Tyler. And the cast is ridiculously amazing. I’m honored to be adapting the material. This play changed American theater. I’m also in another film called The Details, which stars Tobey Maguire. It’s a small role that I did for my friend Jacob Aaron Estes, who is the director.
You’ve worked with some of Hollywood’s top talent. What do you think they learned from you as far as your work ethic or how you approach a character?
That’s a good question. [Pauses] Jamie Foxx used to make fun of me for my research. I’m obsessive about developing characters. At one point in Ray, the props people kept bringing out birthday cakes for a scene that Jamie and I were doing. Jamie asked why all of the cakes were lopsided, and I didn’t want to get the props team in trouble, so I said that I did all of this research and read that [Della Bea Robinson] wasn’t a good cook, like always burning stuff, so I asked the props people to not make the cakes perfect. He said, “Are you kidding me?” He’s given me a lot of shit about it.
You concluded your Broadway debut in David Mamet’s Race this summer. What was your experience like?
It’s been so good. It’s been a long time since I’ve done theater—too long. [Theater] is a different beast and requires different things of you. It’s such a joy to be in the room with your audience and in dialogue with them, in a way.
Will you consider doing theater again if it’s right?
For sure. I come from a theater background and grew up in the theater. That was when I first fell in love with acting. It’s like returning to the scene of the crime.
Hair by Takisha Sturdivant for kenbarboza.com
Styling by David Widjaja for Introartists.com
Makeup by Carola Gonzalez at Cloutier Remix for Nars
Manicure by Candice Manacchio for CND